The blink of an eye: a plea for simplicity

Sabre has flaws. The conventional definition of attack in the 4m is a mess. But the conventional definition of attack outside the 4m is fine. Take priority, keep moving forward, and hit without missing or getting parried.

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It’s simple, it’s clear, it’s easy to apply, and it works.

But sabre has just changed.

While much noise is made over the Russian Box of Death, which isn’t a done deal yet, the timing change has very quietly flown in under the radar. The lockout has increased from 120 to 170 milliseconds, giving us all an extra blink of an eye to finish actions. It was pitched as a minor tweak to get rid of dumb remises, and help indulge the intense fetish for parries that seems to be held by the Powers-That-Be.

It’s bad news for fencers who relied heavily on timing-based counterattacks, and good news for shorter fencers with active bladework and savage acceleration. We’ve been running it every day since May, and are happy to report that draw cuts, well-planned stop cuts, counterattacks with opposition and even sufficiently insane remises are all very much still things. Some preps you can drive a bus through, and 50 milliseconds ain’t going to change that.

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On these terms, there’s no problems with it. It’s going to cut down on one-light hits a bit, which is a move in the wrong direction for a good spectator show, but it’s not a disaster.

But if it’s used as an excuse to change the refereeing conventions, it will be.

We have been hearing disturbing rumblings from the old guard of how relying on the scoreboard to determine a valid counterattack on the march has been a crutch, and we really should go back to properly defining an attack by looking at who started extension first. That we should reintroduce the call of attack-on-preparation, with two lights, outside the 4m.

No, no, no, no, no. Hell no.

Even in a hypothetical world where all refereeing decisions are perfect, this makes following the game infinitely more difficult. In the real world, this takes the disease that is currently crippling the 4m zone and spreads it to every inch of the piste and every moment of the fight. When sabre is trying to find its feet as a sport with broad reach, this is an appallingly bad idea.

This change was sold as no big deal. Please, don’t make it a big deal.

Keep it simple.

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Or we can have a sport where every time this happens, there’s ten minutes of drama over whether the fencer on right extended  first. Please, just no.

Let sabre flow.